Saturday, June 16, 2007

Deutsches Bahnfahrt

Leibe freunde, I have been remiss in updating you on all the lovely things happening: a wine makers diner among the Lodites, a lovely jamabalaying at Betty's house in Napa, and a singles' party - no not that kind, I mean 45s, dating exclusively from 1970-72 with wild ecstatic dancing until the wee hours, last night. I'm beginning to wonder what it's like not to wake up with a hangover.

Anyway, if you have interest, for the next month I will be posting bogs from Wolfenbuttel, (something you hope not to step in accidentally). No, a research trip. And seeing that I have only set foot on German soil once at age 17 for a few hours in Berchtesgaten, where we spotted an aged Eva Braun. I think it will be fun.

I am trying to channel the spirit of Frau von Mucke from whom I learned German one year in grad school, very quickly and efficiently (because she was stunningly beautiful and I hung on her every syllable), passed my reading proficiency exam and never looked at the language again. But I am sure words like Uberschallgeschwindigkeit will come in useful (supersonic speed) as well as Wortschatservieterung (word review?).

I have to admit the portmanteau words in German are thrilling, but they pale beside Russian, which I studied my freshman year in college. I have no idea how to write this in our alphabet, but imagine these sounds rolling off the tongue: Dostoprimachatchelnosti (sightseeing) or prepatavachelnitsa (female teacher). I can still speak a little Russian, perversely enough (U meenya yest yojik v'Yaltu: I have a hedgehog - in Yalta). Our teacher, Mrs. Miller, was a sweet but extremely tough woman. She made us stand up and sing "motion takes accusative" if you got it wrong. One bashful student refused and she waved her gorilla hands about and said, I quote, "you stand up and sing... or I kill you."

The strangest was learning Italian from a waiflike Polish woman one summer at Rutgers. No wonder no one understands what I'm saying there. But I honestly think it's reading 16th century Italian all the time and then expecting people will get it when it comes out of my mouth. "Pray wilst thou pass the butter my good man?" Italians always seem to understand what I say, but then they always grin from ear to ear and start giggling.

We shall see what monstrosoties issue from my mouth in Germany. Stay tuned.



Simona Carini said...

The other day, as I was reading some of those texts that are your sources, I was wondering about something on the same lines as your post: how difficult it is to speak Italian and avoid using some of those old-fashioned words that you are familiar with from your research? I learned a lot of my English vocabulary from Victorian novels and I know that this affects the way I speak and write. I also have a partiality for long German nouns: they have a musical quality to them that I enjoy.

Ken Albala said...

Simona, Its impossible not to be old fashioned with language. Every language I work with is archaic. I speak no modern language, not even English sometimes. Just let it happen. Ken